The City of Lost Children

The City of Lost Children (French: La cité des enfants perdus) is a 1995 science fantasy film directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, written by Jeunet and Gilles Adrien, and starring Ron Perlman. An international co-production of companies from France, Germany, and Spain, the film is stylistically related to the previous and subsequent Jeunet films, Delicatessen and Amélie.[4]

The City of Lost Children
French release poster
Directed by
Produced byFélicie Dutertre
Written by
  • Gilles Adrien
  • Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
Edited by
Distributed by
Release date
  • May 1995 (1995-05) (Cannes)
  • 17 May 1995 (1995-05-17) (France)
  • 17 August 1995 (1995-08-17) (Germany)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
Budget$18 million[3]
Box office$1.7 million[3]

The musical score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti,[4] with costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.[5] It was entered into the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.[6]


Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a highly intelligent but malicious being created by a vanished scientist, is unable to dream, which causes him to age prematurely. At his lair on an abandoned oil-rig (which he shares with the scientist's other creations: six childish clones, a dwarf named Martha, and a brain in a vat named Irvin), he uses a dream-extracting machine to steal dreams from children. The children are kidnapped for him from a nearby port city by a cyborg cult called the Cyclops, who in exchange he supplies with mechanical eyes and ears. Among the kidnapped is Denree (Joseph Lucien), the adopted little brother of carnival strongman One (Ron Perlman).

After the carnival manager is stabbed by a mugger, One is hired by a criminal gang of orphans (run by a pair of Siamese twins called "the Octopus") to help them steal a safe. The theft is successful, but the safe is lost in the harbor when One is distracted by seeing Denree's kidnappers. He, together with one of the orphans, a little girl called Miette (Judith Vittet), follows the Cyclops and infiltrates their headquarters, but they are captured. Meanwhile, the Octopus orders circus performer Marcello (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) to return One to them. He uses his trained fleas, which secrete a poison that causes mindless aggression, to turn the Cyclops guards against each other, before rescuing One. However he leaves Miette behind, who almost drowns before an amnesiac diver living beneath the harbor retrieves her.

Miette leaves the diver's lair to find One and Marcello both drowning their sorrows in a bar. Upon seeing Miette alive the remorseful Marcello lets One leave with her. However the Octopus confronts them on the pier, and uses Marcello's stolen fleas to turn One against Miette. A spectacular chain of events triggered by one of Miette's tears leads to a ship crashing into the pier before One can throttle her. Marcello arrives and sets the fleas on the Octopus, allowing One and Miette to escape to continue searching for Denree.

Back at Krank's oil-rig, Irvin gets one of the clones to release a plea for help in the form of a bottled dream telling the story of how they were created. It reaches One, Miette, and the diver, and the latter remembers that he was the scientist who made them, and that the oil-rig was his laboratory before Krank and Martha pushed him off to take it for themselves. They all converge on the rig; the diver to destroy it and the duo to rescue Denree.

Miette is almost killed by Martha, but the diver harpoons her. She then finds Denree asleep in Krank's dream-extracting machine, and Irvin tells her that to release him she must enter the machine herself. In the dream world she meets Krank and makes a deal with him to replace Denree as the source of the dream; Krank fears a trap but plays along, believing himself to be in control. Miette then uses her imagination to control the dream and turn it into an infinite loop, destroying Krank's mind. One and Miette rescue all the children while the now-deranged diver loads the rig with dynamite and straps himself to one of its legs. He regains his senses as everyone is rowing away, and pleads with his remaining creations to come back to rescue him, but a seabird lands on the handle of the blasting machine, blowing up him and the rig.



The film holds a 79% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 6.91/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Not all of its many intriguing ideas are developed, but The City of Lost Children is an engrossing, disturbing, profoundly memorable experience."[7] It also holds a weighted average score of 73 on Metacritic, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8] Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars out of a possible 4, writing that the film's design and visual effects deserved the highest possible praise but the story was sometimes confusing: "I would be lying if I said I understood the plot."[9]


According to authors Jen Webb and Tony Schirato, the dual nature of capitalism constitutes a main source of tension in the film:

On the one hand, capitalism is presented as enabling self-interest and freedom, as exemplified by the freedom to produce scientific developments (Krank), pursue religious ideas (the Cyclopses), and seek wealth (the Octopus). On the other hand, it exposes the deplorable effects of capitalism ... the exploitation of childhood (the cynical orphans), of tenderness (the Original scientist, attacked and turned out by his own beloved creations), and of innocence (the terrified children whose dreams are stolen) while suggesting that there is no place in capitalism for originality, disinterestedness, duty, self-reflective analysis, and other defining aspects of "the human."[10]

According to author Donna Wilkerson-Barker, these elusive aspects of humanity are presented within the film for various characters to identify with. For example, the relationship between One and Denrée represents, for Miette, a family of authenticity. Prepared to sacrifice her life in order to become a part of their family, Miette helps One to save Denrée from Krank's manipulative environment. In another example, Irvin the brain plays his part in overturning the same environment in order to liberate his "family" of clones. In the end, two boats filled with these two different families row towards their futures: In one boat, a technologically produced family of Irvin and the clones; In the other, a rationally envisioned family containing Miette, One, and the abducted children. This leaves the audience to question precisely what the future will hold for these two differing visions of humanity.[11]

As The City of Lost Children "proceeds in full awareness that the past to which it is committed never really existed," the film has been classified as an example of the steampunk genre.[12]

Video game


  1. "THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 14 July 1995. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  2. "La CITÉ DES ENFANTS PERDUS (1995)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  3. The City of Lost Children at Box Office Mojo
  4. Holden, Stephen (15 December 1995). "Out of the Fever Dreams of a Child". The New York Times. NYTimes Co. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  5. "Metropolis". National Gallery of Victoria. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  6. "Festival de Cannes: The City of Lost Children". Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  7. "The City of Lost Children (La Cité des Enfants Perdus) (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on 24 February 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  8. "The City of Lost Children Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 24 November 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  10. Webb, Jen; Schirato, Tony (2004). "Disenchantment and the City Of Lost Children". Revue Canadienne d'Études Cinématographiques / Canadian Journal of Film Studies. 13 (1): 55–68. doi:10.3138/cjfs.13.1.55. JSTOR 24405638.
  11. Wilkerson-Barker, Donna (2007). "The Dream Scene and the Future of Vision in 'The City of Lost Children' and 'Until the End of the World'". Comparative Literature and Culture. 9 (3): 7. doi:10.7771/1481-4374.1225. ISSN 1481-4374.
  12. Cohen, Noam S. "The Curious Case of Steampunk". Speculative Nostalgias: Metafiction, Science Fiction and the Putative Death of the Novel (Ph.D. thesis). Stanford, CA: Stanford University. p. 169. Document No. 3332811 via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
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